Tag Archive | congestive heart failure

Dying Wishes – The Discussion Everyone Needs to Have with Their Loved Ones Long Before They Need to Be Honored

Ellen Goodman is one of my favorite essayists and authors. My first exposure to her writing was an essay entitled “The Company Man.” Even though I was just 16 years old when I read it in my AP English class, it had a profound impact on me. I still often think of it when the days and nights of life get long, hectic, and overwhelming and it helps me to step back and do, if nothing else, a little reset to get my priorities realigned.

Therefore, when I read her post on the living-or-dying decision-making (and second-guessing) she had to do for her mom when Alzheimer’s Disease had forced Ellen to be the decision-maker, I found it very interesting.

And familiar. Because even if you’ve had “the conversation” many, many times, I think second-guessing, especially toward the end of life when push comes to shove, is inevitable.

Mama and I had talked in-depth about her dying wishes for years and we had the documents and the paperwork done well in advance of her dementias, Alzheimer’s Disease, and congestive heart failure diagnoses.

Living will - dying wishesShe had a living will with no extraordinary measures, as I do. And she decided on a DNR after Daddy died without one and she saw first-hand the effects of futile life support that he had to go through in that last hour of his life because he didn’t have a DNR.

Even though Mama was a medical professional, as was Daddy, I believe the impact of seeing her soul mate and best friend go through being kept artificially alive even for that short period of time was profound and life-altering for her.

We talked about it a lot right after Daddy died, and I told her I had a DNR and had gotten itDNR (Do Not Resuscitate) in my early 20’s and I told her why I had (and still have) it. It made sense to her and we had her doctor draw it up and certify it.

As Mama’s heart health declined, we continued to have conversations about what she wanted and didn’t want as far as quality of life versus quantity of life.

We were so much alike in our very strong views that quality of life was what was important and not quantity (and this really is the core issue that must be addressed and resolved as part of the dying wishes conversation) that we never disagreed on care, treatment, and outcomes.

But it was because we had these heart-to-heart talks a lot in the last years of Mama’s life and we openly and frankly discussed death as the inevitable outcome and how Mama wanted that to be, as much as was within her control. 

When Mama told me she didn’t want to go to the hospital anymore for treatment for her congestive heart failure, I honored that wish, despite the frantic response about liability from the nurse on the phone when I called to have Mama’s doctor give us a prescription for the medicine (Lasix and potassium) and a schedule so that I could treat Mama for it at home.

The doctor ended up calling me himself and he got Mama in the next day to the office and gave me the prescriptions and schedule to do at home with a follow-up visit within the week with him. And we continued to do this at home until Mama’s death. That’s what she wanted and I was determined to make sure that her dying wishes were honored.

The issue came up again three months later when, on her birthday, Mama started throwing up in the afternoon and had chills and sweating. I wasn’t sure whether the symptoms were heart-related or not, so I took Mama to the ER. She had a gall bladder infection and after we were transferred to a bigger hospital early the next morning, a gastrointestinal surgeon came in and tried to talk us into putting Mama under general anesthesia to remove her gall bladder.

I refused that because I knew with Mama’s weakened heart, she wouldn’t survive it and told him we needed a Plan B. He reluctantly said they could put a drain in with local anesthesia to drain the infection out, but that reinfection was likely within a year. I realized even then that Mama’s health was such that it was unlikely that she would live long enough for a reinfection to occur, so after she and I discussed it, we agreed to the drain, which was successful in removing the infection.

It wasn’t until the very end of Mama’s life that I did any second-guessing. I knew logically and intellectually what she wanted and I was committed to honoring that. And I did.

But most of my second-guessing came in the form of wanting to be sure that I wasn’t overreacting as death approached and that once it was clear that Mama was in the dying process, I wanted to be sure she wasn’t suffering and I didn’t know how to gauge that (she wasn’t and I know that now, but it was paramount on my mind then).

The reality is that, with appropriate comfort care during the dying process, it’s harder to watch someone die than it is for them to actually die. Because we watch our loved ones die with all our senses intact, all our systemic functions intact, and all our alertness intact and it’s almost impossible to not project our intact selves into the process.

And that is why having the dying wishes conversation with our loved ones long before we have to honor it is so important. Most people seem to be very uncomfortable with this conversation – and the subsequent similar conversations that will and should follow it.

But let me ask you a question that shows why we need to get comfortable with it.

What if something with a life-ending outcome looming happened to you today and you’d never discussed and formalized your dying wishes with your loved ones and they were suddenly thrust into the position of having to decide whether to postpone the inevitable or let you go with no intervention in God’s timing?

Would you want your loved ones to be in that position? Would you want to be in that position? Think about it. And have the conversation. As soon as possible. 

Steps On The Path – From “Momma and Me Our Journey Through Lewy Body Dementia” blog

As I read this post tonight on Momma and Me Our Journey through Lewy Body Dementia, tears filled my eyes as I remembered a similar moment with my mom a week before she died.

Mom didn’t know who I was most of that last week, but she knew I was someone she could trust. At least after she cried out to God as I put her into bed the Monday of the week before she died and said the words that cut me to the very inner recesses of my heart: “Oh, God, she’s trying to kill me!”

Mom’s mobility was so limited after the major heart attack she suffered on August 2, 2012, that it took all my strength and effort for everything that required movement for her and with her. I was as gentle as I could be with her, and, in some ways, sacrificed my own body, to ensure that Mom was okay, safe, and not taxed any more physically than was necessary. Mom was worth it.

Azheimer's Disease Dementia Steps and Stairs Toward The EndEarly in the morning the Tuesday a week before Mom died, she was in the hospital bed I’d had delivered on Monday and I was in the recliner where she’d slept since we’d come home from visiting my twin sister in May (sleeping in a reclining position eased what I now realized were chest pains from her congestive heart failure).

I was in my usual half-awake/half-asleep nightly ritual when a severe leg cramp forced me out of the chair and onto my feet. As I stood up, I saw that Mom was awake, but the leg cramp was so bad, I knew I had to deal with it first before I could deal with her.

I have an old ankle injury (from a serious car accident when I was in college in which my foot got wrapped around the brake) in the leg that was cramping – which is also the leg that I’ve had three reconstructive, repair, and replacement surgeries on my knee – so I’ve learned over the years that I have to be careful not to pop the ankle when I’m trying to walk out leg cramps in that leg.

Walking wasn’t helping, so I sat in a chair and tried to massage the cramp out. It took about 15 minutes, but I was finally able to stop the cramping enough to go to Mom.

I walked over to Mom and took her into my arms and leaned down to talk into her good ear and ask if she was okay. She took me in her arms and held me close to her, returning my embrace fully, and said “I know I’m not going to get out of here, but you can, so as soon as you get well, promise me you’ll leave.”

I promised Mom that I would and we held each other, for me, as mother and daughter, tightly for several minutes. I kissed Mom and told her I loved her always and unconditionally, and she pulled me closer and squeezed me tighter to her chest and then fell asleep.

Other than Mom’s rally the following Saturday, this is one of the most precious memories I have of my last days with Mom. Even if she didn’t know who I was in a conscious way, somewhere deep inside she knew. She remembered. She loved me. She was looking out for me.

In Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia, there’s not a lot left for us to take away as the diseases destroy our connections to our loved ones. I’m thankful for each one that I have, no matter how thin, how temporary, how distant. Because I know behind each of those is my mom and our bond.

It promises me that some things can’t be broken. Ever. For that I’m grateful and thankful.

Guide to In-Home Medical Care Options for Our Loved Ones Suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementias

This post discusses home health care, palliative care, and hospice care options. Included in the video below are descriptions of each of these options and recommendations and advice, from my personal experience as a loving caregiver for my mom, about each one.

To begin the video, simply click on the “Play” arrow and the video will play (there is no sound).

Please continue to give me feedback on topics you’d like to see discussed here. This is our blog and, while I’ve got content that I’ve prepared and am preparing, I would also like to address any topics, concerns, and questions you have about providing loving caregiving to our loved ones with Alzheimer’s Disease and dementias. 

Mama: March 2, 1929 – August 14, 2012

You Will Never Be the Same Again

Caring for a loved one with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease changes us. This, I believe, is one of the most unrecognized aspects of going through the journey of these diseases with loved ones.

I know with my mom, who had vascular dementia, Lewy Body dementia, and Alzheimer’s Disease as well as suffering from congestive heart failure, I changed throughout the course of our journey together, perhaps as much or more, in different ways, as she did. 

And now that she’s gone, it’s difficult for me to imagine that person that I was before all this started. That person in that configuration is gone. In some ways, that’s good, because that previous iteration of me had some flaws that needed mending, ideas that needed changing, and attitudes that needed correction.

In other ways, though, it’s challenging. Caregiving is a 24/7 job, especially as the diseases progress and the changes become more rapid and more intense, requiring every bit of time, effort, and diligence on our parts to ensure our loved ones are safe and comfortable.

Because of the nature of dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, this is a long, extended high-alert, always-alert, always-ready position for caregivers. It becomes who we are and it reflects the tenor of our lives.

And then one day, it suddenly stops. Adjusting to that abrupt and radical change is, in my opinion, of all the things caregivers do in the course of taking care of loved ones, the hardest part.

I think of it as being in a car going from 120 mph to a dead stop within the time it takes to snap your finger. In some ways, it’s like the aftermath of a high-impact car crash that you walk away from.

I have learned, though, that unless you’ve walked in the shoes of caregiving day in and day out for someone you love with dementias and/or Alzheimer’s Disease, it’s very hard to relate to what the now-defunct caregiver is going through in this post-caregiving phase. It’s not that other people don’t want to understand. It’s just that they can’t really if they haven’t been through it.

There is a tremendous sense of being lost. Because loving caregiving requires such a high investment all the way around, when that ends, there’s a sense of purpose, usefulness, and worth that ends with it.

There’s a sense of wandering around aimlessly while the rest of the world around you is going on as it always has. There is a sense of not belonging anywhere, to any time, or any place. It seems like no matter what you do after that, it’s meaningless, compared to what you were able to give your loved one.

My guess is that will be something we carry somewhere inside us the rest of our lives. It’s just part of the change.

Another change will be that you’re more observant and helpful, especially around elderly folks. Not long ago, I volunteered to help during a cookout at a rehabilitation hospital. One of the things I was doing was helping people to the tables, some of which were on concrete and some of which were on grass.

There was an elderly woman with a walker who clearly had balance issues, and although there were staff members around, no one seemed to realize that as she was walking on the sidewalk toward a table in the grass, she was precariously close to the curb and all it would have taken is just a second for her to have lost her balance, fallen and hurt herself. Visions of Mom flashed in my brain and I ran over to help make sure she got where she was going safely.

Greater compassion toward and protectiveness of those who are vulnerable, as our loved ones suffering from dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease are, will be another change that occurs.

A friend of mine who works as a beautician in a senior care facility wrote on FacebookChange the other day about getting cursed out by an 88-year-old woman who didn’t want the shampoo rinsed out of her hair.

Almost immediately, the insensitive and disrespectful comments started. One person said that she would have sprayed the elderly lady in the face if she had cursed at her.

I got very angry. That could have been my mama they were talking about. I sent a private message to my friend explaining that the lady probably had some form of dementia and/or Alzheimer’s Disease and didn’t even know what she was doing and would have probably, given her age, never done that in her right mind. 

And the biggest change will be that your life will never be the same. You will never look at anything the way you looked at it before you embarked on the caregiving journey with your loved one. At a core level, you’ve changed.

And your biggest challenge will be figuring out what to do with that to go forward, to make the experience count, not just for your loved one, but everyone else, in whatever small way you can, that your life intersects with until the day that you draw your last breath.

And you’ll find it’s a very solitary, lonely journey. But like all the journeys you’ve been on up until now, it’s a necessary one. It will take a lot of patience and gentleness with yourself. It will take time. Most of it will be arduous.

But the most important thing I can pass on to you is not to quit and keep putting one foot in front of the other, even if for long stretches it seems you’re walking in place. Sooner or later, as long as you’re moving, eventually it will be in forward motion.